Israel Advocate Disappointed by Lack of ‘Jewish Establishment’ Participation in Peaceful Protest Against Annual Anti-Zionist Conference at George Mason U
The head of a pro-Israel NGO bemoaned the absence of Jewish support for a counter-demonstration — spearheaded by Christian and conservative groups — against the annual conference of a leading anti-Zionist group at George Mason University (GMU) in Virginia over the weekend.
Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, told The Algemeiner that he was disappointed in members of the “Jewish establishment” for not wanting to participate in a peaceful protest and educational panel, held alongside the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference.
GMU’s Chabad and Hillel missed an opportunity to “attack the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and confront SJP,” Pollak said. “It’s too bad that it took non-Jewish groups to challenge the dangerous phenomenon of mainstream students seeing BDS as a legitimate, normal political cause with which they can associate cost-free.”
Pollak — who took part in a panel entitled Confronting Hate and Extremism: A Discussion on the BDS Movement, along with Izzy Ezagui, a decorated IDF veteran, and Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies — said that, though he “understands those who are uncomfortable with confrontation, sometimes it’s the only way to get a message across with clarity and emotional punch.”
“It was important to expose the BDS movement’s lies and offer students an opportunity to hear the truth about Israel,” Jessica Marzucco, national director of CUFI on Campus and moderator of the program, told The Algemeiner. “Especially at a time when GMU is being inundated with false, anti-Israel messages.”
In an email sent to the university community ahead of the conference, Rabbi Joshua Ackerman, executive director of GMU Hillel, wrote, “We, as a community, will not be defined by SJP’s agenda. Rather, we will continue to empower Jewish students to develop a positive relationship with Israel. We will work to sustain a campus culture that reflects our values and supports Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.”
The letter, obtained by The Algemeiner, also said, “[W]hile we firmly oppose SJP’s hateful messages and hostile tactics, we do not support efforts to disrupt or provoke SJP conference attendees.”
Hillel and Chabad then hosted several events over the weekend, including an interfaith Shabbat dinner, havdalah ceremony and bonfire, to “showcase the campus coming together for the values of respect, dialogue and community building,” according to Matthew Berger, Hillel International’s senior adviser for strategic communications. The groups also launched a website to highlight the university’s “commitment to…inclusion on campus.”
Chabad at GMU director Rabbi Mendel Deitsch said his group and Hillel “worked together, in consultation with national campus groups, to come up with a plan. We decided any direct confrontation would only give the NSJP conference PR, which is exactly what they want.”
Deitsch told The Algemeiner that he thinks the strategy was successful. “Over this weekend, the thing I found the most from students was a lot of Jewish pride. People said, ‘Look at what they [SJP] are doing, and look at what we do.'”
As The Algemeiner reported, over a dozen Virginia lawmakers, prominent thinkers and community leaders co-signed a letter prior to the NSJP conference calling on the GMU president to cancel the event, referring to SJP as an “antisemitic hate group.”
Regarding speculation about SJP funding, and The Algemeiner recently reported on the “mysterious” New York-based progressive organization that has been involved in the group’s financials for a number of years.